Does commercialism harm the music? Some purists think so and offer compelling arguments in support of this theory. In many cases, however, commercialism – music as business – is the precondition for music to gain such popularity. Glenn Miller was living proof of this: He was a gifted musician. And at the same time he was a very successful businessman.
FROM CELLAR TO CONCERT HALL
In the history of jazz swing is unique: swing is a style of jazz and gained the highest popularity in the USA within approximately twenty years – between 1920 and 1940. After the war it found followers all over the world. In its early days swing was pure jazz and a domain of Afro-Americans. This soon changed: the new style and its infectious rhythm were taken on by the “white” mainstream bands and marketed for profit. Without a doubt the success of swing owed to the fact that it was terribly danceable. This is why the first big bands, inextricably linked to the success story of swing, were often booked for dance events. However, the increasing popularity of swing had another – also commercial – source: the new mass media records, radio and talking film. The big bands recorded records, performed in extremely popular radio shows and became something like film stars. The cellar children of swing had become real stars attracting the limelight.
MUSICIANS AND ENTREPRENEURS
Glenn Miller’s big band was exemplary of the popularity and commercial success of this new formation, spurred by swing. Glenn Miller had recorded successful records with his first band as early as 1937, but the group split up the same year. The breakthrough followed in late 1939. The reorganised Glenn Miller Orchestra was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York,where they played pieces like “Moonlight Serenade”, “Little Brown Jug” and “In the Mood”. The success was overwhelming. And this directly affected record sales. In 1942 Glenn Miller received the first golden record in the history of music for “Chattanooga Choo Choo”.
Glenn Miller was an exceptionally gifted bandleader and a circumspect businessman. The entire band and its members benefited from his musical and his commercial talent. The band was organised like a company. The musicians were state-insured, there was a public relations department and the orchestra even employed the stage workers. The life and works of Glenn Miller were highly successful from a musical as well as a commercial point of view – and this success continues to have an effect today.